Live By Night Review

Adapted from Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel of the same name, this is the Ben Affleck show. He writes, directs and stars which is a problem straight away if like me, you don’t really think too much of him. ‘Gone Girl’ was a brilliant film, and although I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen it, ‘Argo’ was a big hit as well. However, he plays pretty much every role in the same old dark and grumbly way and he doesn’t even do that very well.Read More »

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Passengers Review

At one time or another, we’ve all asked our self what we’d do if we were alone, stranded on a desert island. In essence, that’s what ‘Passengers’ is all about. Granted, on a desert island you wouldn’t have the luxuries of a multi billion pound spaceship at your fingertips. However, the point is still valid.Read More »

The Collection Chronicles – Cape Fear (1962)

Cape Fear DVD

The following review is completely spoiler free!

I was always a big fan of the 1991 ‘Cape Fear’ remake directed by Martin Scorsese which starred Robert De Niro as the ex convict searching for revenge against the family of Nick Nolte, who originally defended him. It was a fantastic film and to be completely honest with you, when I first saw it I was totally unaware that it was in fact a remake.Read More »

The Collection Chronicles – A Serious Man (2009)

A Serious Man DVD

The following review is completely spoiler free!

First off this week, you may have noticed that I have come up with a name for this segment, The Collection Chronicles. Basically, it stems from the fact that I am trying to build up my personal DVD collection. Right, now that’s out of the way let’s get started.

If you aren’t a fan of the Coen brothers, then all I can do is apologise that my first two disc dissections have focused on their work. However, I do promise that next week I will branch out.

Why did I decide to watch another Coen brothers film you ask? Well, as I said at the end of last week’s dissection, ‘Barton Fink’ fuelled my hunger for more. So here I am, having helped myself to another large portion of Coen delight.

Or perhaps delight is the wrong word to use this week. ‘A Serious Man’ stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a middle aged Jewish physics teacher whose life is falling apart in front of his very eyes. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce so she can leave him for his work colleague and close friend Sy (Fred Melamed), his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) shows no signs of finding his own home, his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) spends his time getting high and not listening in school, and his daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) just wants nothing to do with him. Oh, and his neighbours are a hunting loving father and son on one side, and on the other is a mysterious lonely woman who torments Larry by sunbathing naked.

Unsure about what to do, he turns to his faith for answers. One by one, he meets with three rabbis in the hope their wisdom will guide him. Varying degrees of success (and hilarity) follow.

A Serious Man Screenshot
Larry Gopnik tries to figure out the answer to all of his problems

 

When the film starts, you may be excused for believing that you have inserted the wrong disc, as what follows is a five minute Yiddish folklore tale which the Coen brothers made up. It has almost no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the film but I actually really enjoyed it, found it fascinating and I also thought it was a very unique way to kick-start a film and grab the viewers attention.

The comedy style used in the film is dark and deadpan, so nothing new there then for the Coen brothers. I don’t have a major issue with the lack of originality, I just wished it had been funnier that it ultimately was. There were a few laugh out loud moments certainly, and the comedic timing was bang on, particularly from Stuhlbarg. I just wanted more of it. A lot more.

Also, if you’re not a Jew like myself, a lot of the language used in the script will mean nothing to you. That is until you watch the very helpful bonus feature which explains the Hebrew and Yiddish terms used (more on that later). This also makes it hard for me to relate to any character. If you’ve been through a bar mitzvah then I’m sure you will appreciate the closing moments of the film far more than I did.

What this film does brilliantly, is capture the look and the feel of 1967 Midwest America. The houses that line the neighbourhood and the costume designs are extremely subtle but the effect they have on the aesthetics is anything but. If you’re a bit of a petrol head and love classic cars, there are some corkers in this. I am by no means a car lover, but boy I really did appreciate some of the beauties on display.

Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance is a real highlight, the way he handles himself while his world falls apart is incredibly admirable and you really do feel for him. There are some lovely, touching scenes that he shares with his brother Arthur which stand out in the memory.

Larry Gopnik
“Is that Larry Gopnik? I have another problem for you…”

 

What isn’t a highlight, are the performances of Aaron Wolff and Jessica McManus as Larry’s children. They both came across as rather wooden and stilted unfortunately. Larry’s friend and work colleague Sy Ableman is an incredibly irritating character, you just want to punch him in the face every time he speaks and that’s all credit to Fred Melamed’s performance because I’m sure that’s what Joel and Ethan Coen were going for. Sy’s story in the film takes a sudden and unexpected turn which I loved as well because that then triggers more unfortunate issues for poor old Larry.

Danny Gopnik
Aaron Wolff contemplates the quality of his performance

 

I was also hoping for more from the rabbi scenes. Aside from the first rabbi Larry meets, Rabbi Scott played by Simon Helberg who you may know from ‘The Big Bang Theory’, these scenes were actually quite dull. The meeting with Rabbi Scott however is actually very funny.

The Verdict

A fairly enjoyable film in which Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a strong lead performance, but some weak acting from the younger members of the cast and a real lack of laughs mean that I can’t give it any more than 3 stars.

3 Stars

Bonus Features

There are three bonus features available, and each of them are well worth a watch. The first, ‘Becoming Serious’, is a 17 minute behind the scenes featurette, with interviews from all the major cast members and also an interesting insight from the Coen brothers themselves.

Next, is an equally fascinating, 13 minute insight titled ‘Creating 1967’ which is exactly what it says on the tin, with interviews from production designers among others. A look into how they transformed the locations into superbly realistic period pieces. Plus those cars, oh baby…

Finally, a very short, snappy, well put together language guide called ‘Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys’. Don’t know what a goy is? This useful little bonus feature reveals all. Or, you know, just Google it.

3 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

DVD Review Of The Week – Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink DVD

The following review is completely spoiler free!

As a so called ‘film fanatic’, I suppose it is a bit of crime to say that until very recently, I really didn’t know much about the Coen Brothers at all. Yes, yes. Get it out of your system. I can almost hear the condescending gasps raining down upon me.

I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t seen any of their work. I have for example, seen their 2008 film ‘Burn After Reading’ and thought it was truly excellent. Even more recently than that, ‘Bridge of Spies’ and ‘Hail, Caesar!’ were the subject of a couple of our episodes. Episode 30 and Episode 44 respectively. Go on, give them a listen.

Despite that, it’s still no secret that I have a lot of catching up to do. So I decided to do something about it, and bought one of their earlier films, ‘Barton Fink’. Boy am I glad I did, what a truly fabulous piece of work.

Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a playwright who has just had enormous success on Broadway with his latest play. Naturally, Hollywood decides it wants a piece of the action and offers Barton the chance to write not for plays, but for pictures.

What follows is a fascinating story of what the film industry is really all about, and the incredibly unenviable life of a Hollywood script writer. From the moment Barton arrives at his eerily lifeless hotel, it is clear that this is not going to be the dream job he hoped it would be.

Turturro plays the socially awkward, mentally fragile role of Fink absolutely impeccably. Truly stellar acting. Somehow though, John Goodman manages to match him with his outstanding portrayal of Fink’s characterful neighbour Charlie Meadows. So delighted is Fink to have a friend he can talk to openly in this otherwise alien city, he is unable to see that Charlie isn’t perhaps all that he says he is…

Charlie Meadows
John Goodman captivates as Barton Fink’s neighbour, Charlie Meadows

 

Suffering from a severe case of writer’s block and coming under increasing pressure from the head of Capitol Pictures Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) to deliver the goods on the wrestling film he has been tasked to script, he reaches out to Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) in the hope he can put him on the right track.

He runs into his writing idol W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney – born in Blackpool would you believe!) along the way and his wife and personal assistant Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis). It is upon meeting these characters that the film takes a turn so unexpected and against the grain that it will leave you begging to know more.

There are certain films that you simply cannot take your eyes off and this is most definitely one of those. The 1 hour and 56 minutes is gone in a flash.

Not only is the film full to bursting of incredible performances from its cast, but it has this wonderful uneasy tone about it which runs all the way through. Fink’s hotel room is the site of many fantastic scenes, whether he’s alone or whether he’s drinking and chatting away to Meadows, it always feels as though there is a lot more happening than simply what your eyes can see. His hotel room is almost a character in itself, its four walls with its drooping wallpaper casting a watchful eye over everything Fink does.

As you’d expect with a Coen Brothers film, there are plenty of surreal moments and some eye-catching camera work. As the film reaches its fiery climax, the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred.

For me though, the standard of the acting is the most impressive element. Special mention must go to Michael Lerner who puts on an extremely memorable performance as the head of the studio. He is the highlight of every scene he is in, a real scene-stealer if you will.

Jack Lipnick
Michael Lerner stealing yet another scene as Capitol Pictures boss Jack Lipnick

 

The Verdict

What a cracking way to kick off this new weekly feature! Among many things this film has done for me, one of them is to fuel my hunger for more Coen Brothers. Superb acting, a truly engrossing story, and a wonderful tone all add up to a gem of a film.

Very easy this week, 5 stars.

5 Stars

DVD Extras

Not a huge amount of bonus features available, however there are some pretty interesting deleted scenes to flick through and also a gallery of stills from the film. It’s a shame there is no commentary from the cast or the Coen brothers though, that would have been fascinating I’m sure.

2 Stars

 

Ghostbusters – Will They Deliver?

Ghostbusters
Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig & Leslie Jones strike a pose

 

The same thing is said at the beginning of every year, but really, 2016 is going to be a huge year for film. There’s Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Creed, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Suicide Squad, and yes, even Zoolander 2.

But there’s one film that really stands out for me, and I wait in nervous anticipation for its release this Summer, Ghostbusters.Read More »

New Bond Theme Is Slightly Underwhelming

Bond Theme

So, as I’m sure you’re aware, the theme song for the latest James Bond film, ‘Spectre’, was released today.

It is performed by 23 year old Londoner Sam Smith, who has already achieved incredible success in his short career.

In February this year, he walked away with four Grammy Awards, having been nominated for six. Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year for ‘Stay With Me’, and Best Pop Vocal Album. It is fair to say therefore, that when it was announced he would be releasing ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ as the 24th official Bond Theme, expectations were pretty high.Read More »